Chicago school board votes to close two charter schools

Chicago’s Board of Education voted Wednesday night to revoke the charters of two schools, Chicago Virtual Charter School and Frazier Preparatory Academy for continued poor performance. 

At the evening meeting at Curie Metro High School on the Southwest side — part of the board’s efforts to increase community input and public participation —  members voted unanimously to close the virtual charter and voted 6 to 1 to close Frazier. The district recommended the closures after each school earned the next-to-lowest school quality rating for two consecutive years.

But parents and students delivered heartfelt pleas to the board. Frazier parents said the school was a home-away-from-home. Both schools, parents and students said, offered struggling students a second chance. 

Board member Dwayne Truss, an active member of community groups on the city’s West Side, voted against the closure of Frazier, in the West Side neighborhood of North Lawndale.  

Staff, parents and students from Frazier all begged the district not to close their school, saying the closure would reflect on them personally.

One Frazier student, Kiya Cox, said that a closure would be akin to “taking my childhood and throwing it in the dumpster.” 

“I am empathetic with the pain you are feeling,” board member Elizabeth Todd-Breland said, adding that the closure wasn’t a mark on the school community or on the students. “There is nothing wrong with your children that you find yourself in this situation today,” she told parents.

The district administration had recommended closing the two charters because of consistently low performance. But public testimony prompted board members to push the district to include  more community input before future school closings, and to make sure that students receive adequate support in their transition to new schools. 

“There are individual students who are doing well. We heard from [those] students tonight,” board President Miguel Del Valle said. “I want to make sure they are doing well and continue to do well.” 

Board members also acknowledged the complicated, and controversial, history of charter schools in Chicago. 

The Illinois Network of Charter Schools, the main statewide advocacy group for charters, supported closing the two schools.

In response, Todd-Breland, whose research has focused on community-based roots of charter schools, blamed the charter movement for supporting the schools until they were facing closure. “You are caught in a system that is bigger than yourself,” Todd-Breland said to students. 

Since 2014, the district has closed seven charter schools for low performance, though others have shut for financial or other reasons, district officials said. 

The closures, effective at the end of this school year, will leave Chicago with 125 charters and contract schools, Chicago is also planning to close a district-run high school with zero students that is part of a larger shift in Englewood to phase out four underenrolled high schools. They are being replaced by a science and technology high school that opened this fall. 

About 20% of Chicago’s schools are charter or contract schools. 

No new charter schools submitted bids this year to expand or open in Chicago, a sign of the shifting environment for the independently run, publicly funded schools in Chicago and at the state level.

Beyond politics, charter operators face Chicago’s steady citywide decline in enrollment. The losses have slowed but are projected to continue. This year, the district lost about 6,000 students from the previous year.